BOYHOOD

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This is a little masterpiece of a film, astonishing as much for what it’s not as for what it is.

You probably know about the unique logistics of the production — it follows the lives of a divorced couple and their two kids over the course of twelve years, and it was filmed over the course of twelve years, so you see the actors age in real time as their characters age in narrative time.

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This is not actually what’s amazing about the film — what’s amazing is the way the process informs the narrative, disciplines the narrative.  The wages of time, visible on screen in the aging of the actors, free director-writer Richard Linklater from the temptation to create synthetic dramatic milestones for the story.

The world simply moves on, and the characters move with it, coping as best they can with the changes time dictates.  Their coping mechanisms are heartbreakingly inadequate.  The catastrophe of an absent father and the heroism of an absent father trying to make amends, the instincts of children to feign indifference to their parents inadequacies and their desperate need to believe in their parents in spite of everything — the paradoxes in these situations are presented without judgement or resolution or hope of resolution.

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There is a hopeful coda, an affirmation of the miracle of life itself, all the more powerful for not insisting that this affirmation answers any questions, heals any wounds.  The film is about accepting a life without answers, without healing.  You can read it as an endorsement of grace — or not.  But in your heart of hearts you will receive it as an endorsement of grace.

THE FUNNY PAPERS: TERRY AND THE PIRATES

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This is the best of all the action-adventure comic strips, and one of the most brilliant comic strips ever created in any genre.

The narratives are boys-own-adventure stuff — literally, because the main protagonist is, at least when the strip begins, a young teenaged boy named Terry Lee.  He and his adult mentor Pat Ryan, a journalist by trade, find themselves in China and have a series of wild adventures among Chinese warlords and pirates, among them their nemesis The Dragon Lady, a beautiful but wicked pirate queen.

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The draftsmanship of the strip’s creator Milt Caniff is dazzling, wonderfully evoking the exotic locales, but Caniff’s greatest skill is visual storytelling in passages of dynamic panels that hurtle through exciting action sequences.

Orson Welles was an ardent admirer of the strip, and you can see why — Caniff’s method was visually elegant and thrillingly cinematic.

It’s just great stuff.

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ESSENTIAL

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D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance, from 1916 is — not to put too fine a point on it — the greatest movie ever made, maybe the greatest movie that ever will be made.

Pauline Kael summed up the film eloquently and passionately when she wrote:

Intolerance is like an enormous, extravagantly printed collection of fairy tales. The book is too thick to handle, too richly imaginative to take in, yet a child who loves stories will know that this is the treasure of treasures. The movie is the greatest extravaganza and the greatest folly in movie history, an epic celebration of the potentialities of the new medium — lyrical, passionate, and grandiose. No one will ever again be able to make last-minute rescues so suspenseful, so beautiful, or so absurd. In movies, a masterpiece is of course a folly. Intolerance is charged with visionary excitement about the power of movies to combine music, dance, narrative, drama, painting, and photography — to do alone what all the other arts together had done. And to do what they had failed to.

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Fabrizio del Wrongo of Uncouth Reflections, who understands Griffith’s art as well as anyone currently writing about film, recently praised the the new Cohen Entertainment high-def restoration of Intolerance, so I bought the Blu-ray of it and it has exceeded all my expectations.  It’s just miraculous — almost as good as watching a fine 35mm print in a theater.

Griffith’s images make you want to jump out of your chair and into the magical spaces they conjure up, and this Blu-ray makes you feel you could actually do it.

A copy of it belongs in every civilized home.  It’s the most important Blu-ray that has ever been released.

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